Herbs That Really Work: Cleavers

herbs that really work Mar 27, 2024

Cleavers (Galium aparine)

Cleavers is an annual, herbaceous plant of the family Rubiaceae. The scientific name originates from the Greek language and approximately translates as sticky milky herb.

Cleavers is endemic to most parts of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. It has a history of use among several Native American peoples as a treatment for urinary diseases, and also as a dye. 16th-century English herbalist John Gerard called cleavers a great remedy for bites from “venomous creatures” like snakes and spiders.

Cleavers is one of the most popular therapeutic herbs for the urinary tract and the lymphatic system, due to its affinity for these systems. Modern research identified several active phytochemicals that are beneficial for the urinary, circulatory, and digestive systems.

Therapeutic Functions

Cleavers has adaptogen, lymphatic, demulcent, tonic, cleanser, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, astringent, detoxifier, alterative, hypotensive, mild laxative, diuretic and vulnerary properties.

It is used in several medical conditions being especially valuable in the treatment of inflammatory urinary conditions and suppressed urine. Due to its affinity to the lymphatic system, it is also used in the treatment of poor lymphatic circulation, enlarged lymph nodes and lymphadenopathy, where infection is suspected.

Cleavers is also used in conditions associated with inflammation tonsilitis, hepatitis, cystitis. It has a reputation to aid in weight loss and cellulite. The cleansing and lymphatic effects of also makes it useful in the treatment of chronic skin disorders including eczema, acne, urticaria and psoriasis.

List of Specific Therapeutic Actions 

Urinary: alleviates cystitis, reduces bladder inflammation, treats kidney stones and gravel, helps in urinary bed infections, prevents bedwetting, has diuretic properties

Reproductive: regulates menstrual flow, prevents menstrual and post-partum hemorrhage, aids in PMS and supports menopause transition

Circulatory:  cleanses blood, lowers blood pressure, fights cholesterol, promotes circulatory health

Topical: stimulates wound healing, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, helps in psoriasis, relieves eczema, alleviates acne, soothes urticaria alleviates pustules and boils, promotes hair and scalp health.

Immune: tonic, alterative, adaptogen

Important Scientific Data 

Cleavers is rich in active constituents such as phenols, tannins, alkaloids, anthraquinones, coumarins, iridoids, asperuloside, alkanes, flavonoids, and saponins.

The active constituents have a synergic function on the lymphatic system and improve its ability to clean toxins, decrease congestion, and reduce swelling. This implicitly enhances the function of the immune system. 

The diuretic action of cleavers helps to flush out toxins and excess fluid from the kidneys. This prevents systemic water retention and avoids the formation of kidney stones.

Several studies have confirmed the hepatoprotective effect of cleavers. It not only protects the liver from damage, but it also helps it to heal with its cleansing properties. Cleavers also stimulates bile production and prevents bile ducts from becoming clogged.

Cleavers diuretic properties coupled with its soothing, demulcent action make this herb ideal for calming and inflamed urethra. It can act as a preventative measure for the incidence of recurring UTIs. Cleavers is efficient even in resilient, chronic UTIs. An article published “Indian Journal of Research in Pharmacy and Biotechnology” recommends cleavers for acute or chronic cystitis with swollen lymph nodes and uterine inflammation.

Cleavers, due to its demulcent properties, can also be useful in protecting the lining of the bladder against irritation which can lead to an overactive bladder.

Therapeutic Formulas


Dosage and Frequency

  • Infusion and decoction: 1 tbsp per cup water, steeped 15 minutes or decocted 5 minutes; ½ cup 2 – 6x day
  • Tincture: ½ - 1 tsp 3 – 4x day 
  • Topical: therapeutic baths: 4 - 8 cups decoction in bath water; various preparations on the skin, as recommended; gargle with infusion for oral sores

Cautions, Warnings and Contraindications


Cleavers should be cautiously used in edema of unknown diagnosis.


Oral overdose can lead to stomach and intestinal irritation.

Unprotected contact with the fresh herb causes urticaria.


Pregnant or breastfeeding women and infants should avoid consumption.

Possible Herb / Drug Interactions:

Cleavers is considered generally safe when following normal dosages, no drug or herb interactions are currently known.


This article is an excerpt from a more detailed handout that is included in my course Natural Detoxification for Enhanced Vitality and Wellbeing.






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